First Impressions: Three new eateries are on the right track

Published: Sunday, Jul. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5AANDE
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 29, 2012 - 9:51 am

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at

Three new places, two lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng waits for food, and one very empty dining room that really deserves to be full.

In our latest installment of First Impressions, we're lining up to try the superb food at Bacon and Butter; we're standing and waiting – and then going next door to shop for groceries and coming back and waiting some more – for our order to be ready at Tako Korean BBQ; and then waltzing right in at Trio Restaurant downtown, where we loved every dish we tried during a delightful dinner.

Mixed bag? Some kinks to be worked out? Lots of promise? Yes, across the board.

Trio Restaurant

(826 J St., Sacramento)

This new restaurant takes over from Table 260, the restaurant we remember for the piece of fried chicken coating stuck to our plastic menu and for serving us reheated and inedible rice that gave new meaning to "going through the motions."

Trio is vastly different.

It's the work of Gönül Blum, the former registered nurse turned restaurateur. You may know her for Gönül's J Street Cafe, which moved and shrunk into Vanilla Bean Bistro.

Trio features the same kind of Mediterranean cuisine that has won Blum a following among discerning foodies. But we can't recall ever having a meal so good at her other places.

For a new restaurant that was entirely empty and still a week away from landing its beer and wine license, it was a revelation.

For now, Blum herself is at the helm in the kitchen, and her palate is spot-on. The various sauces with her dishes feature fresh and lively seasonings. I was not surprised to learn later that Blum picks the herbs each morning from her home garden. It's a garden-to- table concept that matches up well with the intimate and elegant cooking here.

We've had a lot of fried ravioli lately (for some reason), but this appetizer ($8) took the dish to another level – the ravioli is filled with butternut squash and finished on the plate with a Dijon cream sauce that was savory with hints of sweet.

The "tabulleh" salad (a.k.a. tabbouleh) also was splendid. Blum's version bypasses the sometimes overwhelming chopped parsley in favor of more bulgur wheat, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs and feta cheese. The meatloaf ($18) also was excellent, including the sauce and a side of butternut squash risotto.

The Türlü ($17), a Turkish classic stew featuring chicken, meatballs and seasonal vegetables with an array of fresh herbs in a coconut milk sauce? Also really good.

Trio is new and people haven't found it yet. It is doing lunch and dinner, and is well worth discovering.

Bacon & Butter

(1119 21st St., Sacramento)

Don't let the name scare you – this new and exciting breakfast and lunch spot in midtown just might appeal to everyone, vegans included.

B&B is the work of Billy Zoellin, the young chef who rose to prominence at the Golden Bear, which landed him on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

Zoellin has style. His cooking is muscular, intense and original, but with enough classic preparations and restraint to keep it in check. It's edgy, but not over the top.

Take the grilled cheese sandwich ($11) – it's made with rustic bread, smoked mozzarella and havarti cheeses, and a thick slice of bacon tacked on for a special meaty texture and flavor. It's a great sandwich. The smashed fries that come with it also are very tasty.

The burger ($12) is top-notch, too – a thick and hand-shaped patty, a nicely domed bun, dry cheddar and smoked aioli topped with delicate deep-fried shallot rings. Because I like my clothes to still fit by the time I leave a restaurant, I opted for the side salad with my burger.

I wasn't surprised to learn that B&B won an award for its BLT during the recent citywide "Bacon Fest BLT Week." Zoellin came up with a BLT on a house-made biscuit with smoked heirloom tomatoes, a 3-ounce slice of bacon that was cooked confit-style then quickly seared, butter lettuce and a tarragon-lemon aioli.

For breakfast, Zoellin's offerings are varied and appealing. The biscuits and gravy ($10) are already becoming famous. He's also doing a "BLT omelet" with bacon steak, two kinds of tomatoes, mozzarella and baby spinach.

Flapjacks? How about house-made batter, sliced fruit and warm syrup?

Bacon & Butter is still working out the kinks and is not in danger of being mistaken for the excellent concept known as Fast & Efficient – not yet, anyway. Our lunch service, friendly as it was, could have been more organized, more attentive.

And on Sunday morning, the wait was so long that we bailed after an hour. The good news: People really flock to good food like this. The bad? People will wait for honest cooking done right, but they lose patience with inefficiency and chaos in the front of the house.

Zoellin tells me the staff is working to handle the weekend onslaught. Give B&B a shot on weekdays (except Monday) and you'll have little to no wait.

Tako Korean BBQ

(3030 T St., Sacramento)

Our first experience here was an eye-opener – as in deer in the headlights. Every foodie, faux foodie, Yelper, blogger, Facebook exhibitionist and Bourdain wannabe was here when we ambled up, ready for some fast and easy takeout grub.

Not so fast. Tako is a great idea with good food, but it wasn't ready to be swarmed en masse. We got the food in about an hour, and it ranged from bland (the tofu tacos need work) to deliciously spicy (spicy pork burrito) to superbly original (the kimchi quesadilla). That last one is not only fun to say, it's crunchy, tasty and full of exotic Korean flavors.

The kimchi is actually made by co-owner Yunece Cho's mother, based on an old family recipe.

Cho's concept is simple – the menu is very small, but the food is lively, fresh and largely delicious. Everything is $6 or less. We thought the rice bowl could use tweaking – overwhelmed as it is with shredded cheese on top, making for a goopy dish that's out of sync with the rice and meat (or tofu).

The building is familiar to Sacramentans. It's a classic old gas station that sat empty for years. It's cute, it's funky – and now it has come back as a casual eatery with plenty of charm.

People clearly want this to work. The location, the concept, the prices, the feel of the place – it's all headed in the right direction.

Even the wait times are getting better. We've already been for a second impression – and we got our food in all of five minutes.

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